That first crunch is a revelation. As the batter shatters like glass, it yields to reveal moist, aromatic chicken within — what wizardry is this? “We use a pressure cooker first, then double-fry the chicken,” reveals chef Judy Joo. No, it’s probably not one to try at home, but Joo does offer an easier version of it (which she calls “Ultimate KFC”) for the home cook in her new book, Korean Food Made Simple (Jacqui Small, £22), which I make a mental note to buy as soon as I get home.
Joo is a French-trained, Korean-American chef, writer and restaurateur who has done time in some of the world’s best restaurants — first as a customer and then as a chef.
I should explain. Joo started her working life as a fixed income trader working for Morgan Stanley in New York, first table-hopping around some of the world’s best restaurants and then helping to create dishes for them. She makes some hilarious comparisons between Wall Street and the Michelin-starred kitchens she trained in, among them Gordon Ramsay’s Chelsea restaurant (I’ll spare your blushes).
She opened her first restaurant, Jinjuu, in London’s Soho in January 2015; her second restaurant, Jinjuu HK, opened in Hong Kong at the end of last year. And yes, that chicken — and a few of her other addictive signature dishes, such as fried fish with kimchi mayo and sesame mushy peas — have helped the expansion process along.
Joo’s TV show, Korean Food Made Simple, aired globally, including on Food Network in the UK and Cooking Channel in the US, cementing her status as the go-to chef for all things Korean and helping to push the cuisine into the mainstream, particularly in the UK — its seems no trendy new restaurant opens without a reference to kimchi on its menu.
The British are used to ethnic foods and they love their spices
It turns out that cornflour, vodka and matzo meal are some of the more unorthodox ingredients she uses in her Korean fried chicken. The dish is set off by the customary Korean accompaniment of cubed pickled radish, plus Korean-style barbecue sauce (laced with the secret weapon gochujang, a red chilli paste) and a couple of Psy Sour cocktails — her head bartender Kristian Breivik’s clever take on a classic sour with ginseng, soju and yuzu juice.
Jinjuu, meaning “pearl”, but clearly also a play on her name, offers something altogether smarter, funkier and more polished than any of the competition. “London is very diverse and it’s a global city. The British are used to ethnic food and they love their spices — I think that’s why they’ve embraced these flavours,” says Joo, with characteristic modesty.
“What you see is what you get with Korean food. It’s healthier than Chinese cuisine and more flavourful than Japanese. It’s punchy, lively and honest — a bit like the people, you could say,” she smiles.